Rehabilitative Alimony Award to Wife Affirmed on Appeal in Tennessee Divorce Case

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently ruled on several issues presented in a divorce case, particularly an award of alimony to the wife. In Hopwood v. Hopwood (Tenn. Ct. App. June 23, 2016), the parties were married for 14 years and had four children at the time of the divorce. The trial court granted the wife a divorce on the grounds of inappropriate marital conduct and designated her primary residential parent of the children. After considering several factors, including the husband’s ability to pay, the wife’s needs, and her role as a caregiver during the marriage, the trial court also awarded the wife rehabilitative alimony of $2,500.00 per month for 15 years. The husband appealed, contending that the trial court erred in determining the amount and duration of alimony.

Currently, Tennessee law recognizes four types of spousal support:  (1) alimony in futuro, (2) alimony in solido, (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) transitional alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is alimony intended to assist an economically disadvantaged spouse in acquiring additional education or training that will enable him or her to achieve a standard of living comparable to the standard of living that existed during the marriage, or the post-divorce standard of living expected to be available to the other spouse.

In order to determine whether to award alimony and, if so, the amount and duration of the award, the court is directed by statute to consider several factors, including the age, mental condition, and physical health of the parties, the length of the marriage, the parties’ relative earning capacities, the separate assets of the parties, the provisions made with regard to marital property, and the standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage. Although the trial court should consider all relevant factors, the most significant two are the disadvantaged spouse’s need and the obligor spouse’s ability to pay.

In Hopwood, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s finding that the husband was willfully and voluntarily underemployed since he left his previous employment on his own volition while the parties were contemplating divorce. In addition, although the husband testified that he runs his own company now, he does not advertise his business, which the court recognized as an opportunity to minimize income. As a result, the court started the alimony analysis with the husband’s income calculated between $100,000 and $110,000.

The appeals court went on to review the trial court’s findings with regard to the statutory factors. The court affirmed its decision to award rehabilitative alimony to the wife, noting the discrepancy between the parties’ earning capacity, the imputed income of the husband, the wife’s lack of work experience and desire to secure a college education, her contributions to the marriage made in the home, and her financial need. However, the court found that the duration of 15 years was excessive, since the wife was in good health and testified that she could obtain her degree in eight years, and it ruled that additional evidence was needed to determine the husband’s actual ability to pay the amount awarded. Accordingly, while the rehabilitative alimony award was affirmed, the matter was remanded for a ruling based on its opinion.

It is important to understand your rights regarding monetary support and property division in divorce or separation proceedings. The Nashville family law attorneys at MHPS provide experienced and knowledgeable legal guidance to clients who have questions concerning parenting time, child support, property distribution, and other matters involved in divorce. To discuss your case with one of our compassionate and hardworking divorce lawyers, call MHPS at (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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